Sunday 18 March 2018

Fate of €1.4bn Aer Lingus deal rests on Labour vote

Joan Burton. Photo: Mark Condren
Joan Burton. Photo: Mark Condren

Philip Ryan and John Downing

The fate of the €1.4bn bid for Aer Lingus could be decided by the Labour Party at the weekend, with members seeking to force a vote on the issue.

An emergency motion opposing the sale of the State's stake in the airline to IAG will be put before Labour members at their conference in Killarney.

An expected vote in favour would make opposition to the sale party policy and leave Tanaiste Joan Burton with little option but to sink the deal at Cabinet level.

The growing unease in Labour comes as Aer Lingus unions held fresh talks with the company's chief executive Stephen Kavanagh and IAG chairman Willie Walsh.

And government sources said they were "bemused" by the "shambolic" row involving the secretary of the airline's group of unions Myles Worth, who suggested workers were warming to the IAG deal.

Sources insisted that this would not have any impact on the Cabinet's final decision.

Aer Lingus will today publish its annual report which will give a clearer picture of its finances.

The Irish Independent understands senior Labour figures are drafting an emergency motion on the Aer Lingus deal, which will be put before the membership gathering in Killarney on Friday. The exact wording of the motion has yet to be determined but it will voice strong opposition to the deal.

The motion is being prepared by members of the so called 'Aer Lingus Seven' - a group of mostly North Dublin TDs who have been adamantly against the sale from the outset.

Former junior minister Joe Costello said the group's opinion has not changed since Mr Walsh appeared before an Oireachtas committee to set out his plans.

"I am still very sceptical about the offer," Mr Costello said.

Former Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore also weighed into the controversy yesterday and insisted he would need to see the outcome of the Government's working group before he made up his mind.

"I am not aware of the full information as I am not sitting at the Cabinet table. We have to have the full information and I don't have that but I will be guided by those who do," he told the Irish Independent.

Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe is due to give the Cabinet a weekly update on the issue today but it is understood his review panel will not report back to the Government for some time. The working group is examining the impact a sale would have on jobs and connectivity and branding of the airline.

Speaking to the Irish Independent last night, Mr Donohoe said the Government will not be rushed into making a final decision on the sale.

Referring to Labour TD Pat Rabbitte's decision to support the IAG bid, he said: "I know there are some people who would share his view - there are others who would differ with it."

The outcome of the high-level meeting between unions and Mr Walsh is unlikely to advance a deal. "He is good performer but there is nothing new on offer that isn't in the public arena," a source said.

Jobs Minister Richard Bruton said the Government would not rush into any agreement.

"I think the calm approach that Paschal Donohoe has taken assessing the issues carefully reflects the right approach for a Government to take on an issue that is clearly high stakes...and which there are legitimate different points of view being expressed. We need to make a decision on the best possible information in the interest of the Government."

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Where  do the  unions stand?

Trade unions representing many of the 3,900 workers at Aer Lingus have all said their positions on a potential IAG sale remains "unchanged".

SIPTU, which represents almost 50pc of the staff working mainly in the ground-handling and clerical divisions, said that unless there is "tangible guarantees on the macro issues" they believe there is "nothing to consider".

SIPTU organiser Owen Reidy said they are looking for "concrete proposals" and "legal guarantees" on issues such as the Heathrow slots and maintaining direct employment, standards and levels.

Impact, which represents pilots, cabin crew and ground staff, also said their position has not changed. They previously forecast that as many as 1,200 jobs could be axed if the IAG bid is successful.

"What Impact was saying about jobs and connectivity a few weeks ago, it remains true today. We have heard nothing to alter our position," Niall Shanahan, the Impact spokesperson said last night.

The Irish Congress of Trade Union, the umbrella body for unions, said they "remain to be convinced" and have yet to hear anything in "regard to jobs or slots" which would change their mind.

The Central Representative Council said their stance "remains consistent" with the views expressed by unions at the Oireachtas Committee meeting last month, and said comments made at the weekend by CRC Secretary Myles Worth were his "personal views".

Irish Independent

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